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Open Access Research article

Elucidation of the molecular envenomation strategy of the cone snail Conus geographus through transcriptome sequencing of its venom duct

Hao Hu1, Pradip K Bandyopadhyay2, Baldomero M Olivera2 and Mark Yandell1*

Author affiliations

1 Eccles institute of Human Genetics, University of Utah, and School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112, USA

2 Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:284  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-284

Published: 28 June 2012

Abstract

Background

The fish-hunting cone snail, Conus geographus, is the deadliest snail on earth. In the absence of medical intervention, 70% of human stinging cases are fatal. Although, its venom is known to consist of a cocktail of small peptides targeting different ion-channels and receptors, the bulk of its venom constituents, their sites of manufacture, relative abundances and how they function collectively in envenomation has remained unknown.

Results

We have used transcriptome sequencing to systematically elucidate the contents the C. geographus venom duct, dividing it into four segments in order to investigate each segment’s mRNA contents. Three different types of calcium channel (each targeted by unrelated, entirely distinct venom peptides) and at least two different nicotinic receptors appear to be targeted by the venom. Moreover, the most highly expressed venom component is not paralytic, but causes sensory disorientation and is expressed in a different segment of the venom duct from venoms believed to cause sensory disruption. We have also identified several new toxins of interest for pharmaceutical and neuroscience research.

Conclusions

Conus geographus is believed to prey on fish hiding in reef crevices at night. Our data suggest that disorientation of prey is central to its envenomation strategy. Furthermore, venom expression profiles also suggest a sophisticated layering of venom-expression patterns within the venom duct, with disorientating and paralytic venoms expressed in different regions. Thus, our transcriptome analysis provides a new physiological framework for understanding the molecular envenomation strategy of this deadly snail.

Keywords:
Conus geographus; Conotoxins; RNA-seq; Venom duct compartmentalization